My name is Alex Paul, and that’s me in the above photo, I am fist pumping to celebrate one of my best 18 mile races, with a record finishing time of 2 hours and 34 minutes. When I’m not running 50-70 miles a week training for my next race or caring for my 3 1/2 year-old son, I work as a iOS developer here at SWARM.

When people ask me how I started doing iOS development I tell them I was a construction worker for 16 years prior. This seems to puzzle people. However, in my eyes, the two industries are not as different as one may think, which is why I want to share my story.

When I started in construction

I fell in love with the idea of bringing an idea to life. The construction industry excited me because I was creating a real piece of NYC, I was able to directly impact people’s lives, and no day felt the same. I was not deterred by the constant challenging physical activity involved in the work.  In fact, I really enjoyed the physical aspect of the job, but I also appreciated the planning and throughput it took to get the job done. At the end of every day I could see the results of my hard work. The satisfaction of being involved in a project from it’s infancy of blueprints to a completed renovation drove me.

I never intended on pursuing construction, I sort of fell into the job when I moved to the US from St. Lucia. I was 19 years old and had recently graduated high school. Tech was fascinating to me (having spent a year tinkering with one of those clunky Windows 95 computers). First, I needed to find a job and save enough money to fund a college degree. I was fortunate to have a few acquaintances in the construction industry and quickly landed an apprenticeship with a Master Carpenter.

After a few years, I had gained a valuable skill and was able to save enough money to enroll at the Borough of Manhattan community college (BMCC) as a Computer Science major. In those two years at BMCC I quickly developed a knack and love for coding. I then obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science at the New York institute of Technology (NYIT). I continued to work in the Construction industry for eight more years to support my family and pay off my student loans.

While working in Construction

I landed a job as a Help Desk Technician at the New York Commercial Bank. This experience allowed me to exercise my coding skills in a professional setting. But I was hungry to do more. I had the entrepreneurial urge to utilize my web development knowledge for my own project, to solve a problem!

Then one day, an idea came to me. One frustration I had working in construction was matching paint colors in order to touch up projects. I would travel back and forth to paint stores to find the right color. This cost me a lot of time. I wanted to build something that would allow me to store paint colors and tag them to specific projects so I could better manage my workflow.

Why not build an iOS application?

This undertaking would be a challenge, as there was a dearth of online resources for developers at this time. Mind you it was 2008, and the iPhone had been out for only a year. I also did not own an iPhone. I did not own the platform to test my own code! Regardless, I was excited to start my project. A few years later, WhatPaint was released in the app store. I would go on to develop two more apps – StayAerobic and KneeFit – apps to solve my own problems.

This excitement and eagerness to experiment with emerging tech attracted me to SWARM, and in Fall of 2015 I joined their Dev team. It’s been almost a full year now and I can say it has been a challenging and rewarding transition. My background in carpentry has made me appreciate the parallels between each industry (though writing code and building mobile apps is certainly not as messy or physically taxing):

  • Code is just like architecture – it is usable art that can be manipulated to create something that people interact with. It must be designed, tested, and maintained.
  • Team involvement. No project is done in isolation. Every project must be refined through client meetings and involves a group of consultants, architects, contractors designers, and project managers.
  • Changes continue to be implemented, even when a product is ready to be handed over to the client. A concise punch list in the construction industry, and bug list in iOS, needs to be sifted through and fixed or improved upon in order to deliver a high end product.
  • The designer-developer relationship is crucial to the planning and implementation of the project. In both industries, designers sometimes push a design that the developer may find impossible to implement due to tools and engineering constraints.

Just as it was in construction

no day feels the same. I’m constantly learning and experimenting with new technology – whether that involves querying into a new library or using some new API. I solve new problems every day, and do so using various resources. A start could be a colleague, or a quick Internet search which will most often direct me to Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow has an abundance of developer questions, and various crowdsourced solutions to people’s bugs or problems. When a question is not met with an answer, it is up to me to figure out the solution. I’ve learned to embrace trial and error; it is part of the thrill of the job.

Adjusting to full time iOS development has had its ups and downs, thankfully mostly ups. Sometimes it takes weeks to debug software which can lead to some hair pulling. But with every hair pull there’s the fist pump or high fives when the problems has been solved. This is what drives me.

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